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Germans in the Middle Danube Region

After the occupying Ottomans were driven out of Hungary in 1683, the Austrian government and private landowners systematically brought German settlers into the region along the middle reaches of the River Danube. This repopulation occurred in several stages up until 1790. These settlers mostly came from Swabia, in south-western Germany. It was not until after the First World War that the term 'Danube Swabians' was coined for them.

Austrian imperial policy at the time, influenced by mercantilism, assigned the State an active role: the planning and implementation of the settlement programme reflected ways of thinking rooted in rationalism and the Enlightenment. The government in Vienna had clear expectations of the settlers: they were to bolster the absolutist, centralised state. To this end, settlers with a particular religious, ethnic and economic background were sought. Carefully planned settlements, farms and communal buildings were built according to strict requirements of standardisation and control.

The territory concerned was part of Hungary until 1918, when the borders were redrawn, apportioning it between Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia (now in Serbia and Croatia). Thanks to fertile soil and good husbandry, the Danube Swabians turned their farmland into one of the most productive in south-eastern Europe. They were known for optimising technical processes and labour practices, for introducing new technologies quickly, and for continually increasing their yields. Their economic basis also included small rural industries and town-based craft trades. After 1867, the ethnic Germans underwent a process of cultural assimilation into the Hungarian majority, especially in the towns. Around 1940, the Danube Swabians numbered some 1.25 million. Even today there are still small German minorities in Hungary and Romania, and even smaller ones in Serbia and Croatia.